Do differences in your team worry you, or do you see diversity as its greatest strength?
The make-up of teams is complex. They are more diverse than ever in terms of personalities, racial, cultural and religious identities, gender and sexual orientation. Members may be at different stages of their careers, or have different aspirations in terms of their work-life balance. Their employment status may vary between fixed-term or permanent contracts, with full or part-time hours, or those of an unpaid volunteer.
A manager has to have an understanding of what makes the team productive, what the team needs to function best and how the diversity of the team affects its output.
A manager must create an environment in which each team member's contribution is valued. Facilitation skills are essential to help a team work towards balancing the contribution of each member. Misunderstandings arise from areas such as different social norms, culturally different senses of time, stereotyping of others' differences and what this means for the team. Other causes are a lack of trust emerging from unfamiliarity related to differences with others, and poor communication.
Diverse teams can be great at problem solving, bringing fresh ideas to problems. But if a team's interactions are compromised by an inability to address differences, its productivity is also compromised.
Research from the London Business School, called Bridging Faultlines and carried out by Lynda Gratton and Andreas Voigt, says there are two main reasons why diverse teams fail. The first is a failure to collaborate because team members do not develop trust. The second is a failure of knowledge sharing, when team members withhold knowledge from each other. This happens where "fault lines" - sub groups or coalitions - develop within the team.
Managers must make use of different management styles to address different scenarios. Above all, diverse teams need managers who are confident in their inter-personal skills and who know how to get the best out of team members because of their differences, not in spite of them.
- Elaine Willis is a consultant and coach specialising in voluntary sector management. firstname.lastname@example.org